EMS needs, sales tax referendum keeps county at odds

W. Curt Vincent - cvincent@civitasmedia.com

ELIZABETHTOWN — A motion to add two additional paramedics and three EMTs to the county’s EMS force Monday sparked not only a discussion about the needs of the EMS, but also yet another squabble over the proposed quarter-cent sales tax referendum.

County commissioners dove right into the controversial items early, when Commissioner Michael Cogdell made a motion to add the medics and Commissioner Arthur Bullock seconded the motion. But Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson quickly threw up a roadblock.

“I don’t really think it’s appropriate to do that right now with the sales-tax referendum coming up,” he said. “And we just OK’d five new medics two weeks ago.”

Peterson was referring to a motion he made at the July 19 meeting to hire five new medics. Seconded by Commissioner Jimmie Smith, the motion passed unanimously.

The board discussed the fact that EMS Director David Howell had requested 10 new medics recently to be able to completely cover the county around the clock, but Peterson said the county doesn’t have the money to add five more right now.

The commissioners voted 6-3 against Cogdell’s motion — with Peterson Smith, Wayne Edge, Daniel Dowless, Billy Ray Pait and Russell Priest casting the dissenting votes. Despite the issue being settled, the discussion was just getting going.

“I just want to encourage the board to get our EMS in compliance (with Howell’s request),” said Commissioner Delilah Blanks. “It might be this board of the next to do it.”

“I want to encourage the board to get out and support the sales tax referendum that will provide money for personnel and equipment needed by EMS,” Peterson countered. “But let’s be clear, we keep hearing about how a portion of the county doesn’t have proper coverage. The truth is, we have an ambulance stationed in the East Arcadia area 24/7 — we don’t do that in any other area of the county.”

“The people have already spoken on the sales tax three or four times already,” Blanks shot back. “They don’t want it, but you keep trying to shove it down their throats.”

“We would have had the sales tax passed already if certain people didn’t go back on the agreement,” Peterson said.

“I just know that, even with the additional five (medics), they still can’t cover the entire county,” Bullock said. “And I don’t know what agreement you are referring to.”

“Oh, don’t even go there,” Peterson said.

“I don’t think we should be relying on the sales tax to fund the EMS needs,” Cogdell said.

Finally, the board moved on, but the next issue — a non-voting item update from Sheriff Jim McVicker that would give the N.C.State Highway Patrol space in the new Bladen County Laws Enforcement Center once completed in exchange for the payment of an 80-foot communications tower behind installed at a value of $18,000 — brought more dissension.

“We’d have a three-year contract and, in the end we’d own an 80-foot tower that we need and didn’t have to pay for,” McVicker said.

Cogdell, however, was bothered by that kind of agreement.

“This is just my opinion, but we seem to be giving space to state agencies in a billion-dollar facility that our taxpayers have had to foot the bill for, rather than those agencies reinvesting in our county by building a facility of their own,” Cogdell said.

McVicker said other counties have done the same kind of thing, with troopers being housed in their law enforcement centers, and it does add another level of law enforcement in the facility, making it a more secure facility and giving the public one place to come for any law-enforcement needs.

But Cogdell wasn’t convinced.

“I just think if the Highway patrol or the District Attorney’s Office or any other state agency needs space, we can give it to them in the courthouse once the areas become available,” he said.

McVicker said he would need a decision on the issue soon, and Chairman Priest said it would be on the first September agenda.

A third area of dissension came when County Manager Greg Martin gave a report on the per Diem reimbursement for travel in the county compared with the state rates and federal rates.

He said Bladen County pays $33 for three meals per day in-state, and $40 out-of-state; the state rate is $37.90 in-state and $40.50 out-of-state; the federal rate is between $51 and $74 depending on location.

After discussion on the rates, as well as a clause in the county policy that points out disciplinary actions against an employee who misuses the per Diem payments, Blanks made a motion to table the issue. After a second by Cogdell, the board voted 6-3 against tabling — with Peterson, Smith, Priest, Dowless, Pait and Edge voting no.

In other action, the board:

— Honored East Bladen graduate and NFL player Desmond Bryant and his family for the work they have done to provide the Eagles with equipment and a summer football camp for the past five years. A nice plaque was presented to the family.

— Designated Vice-Chairman Bullock as a voting delegate to the NCACC annual conference.

— Approved a job reclassification for an employee in the maintenance department from maintenance mechanic II to lead maintenance mechanic, as requested by Central Service Director Kip McClary.

— Approved a National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Project funding agreement for design purposes at Lock & Dam No. 2 and No. 3 as part of the Fishway Construction Project.

The next meeting of the county commissioners will be Monday, Aug. 15, at 6:30 p.m.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

W. Curt Vincent


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